You may find it a useful to think about writing as a process involving rehearsal, drafting and revision. Emphasising rehearsal is a reminder that writing begins with finding something to say. Many writers gain enormously from chatting to friends and colleagues or musing on thier work in everyday situations. They are rehearsing the different stories they can tell about their research. This stage may not involve any writing at all (though research diaries and notebooks are useful in keeping notes).
Rehearsal is followed by a drafting phase in which you start to put more coherent thoughts down on paper. Writers approach this in different ways. For example some people have a clear view as to where they are going and write sections and whole chapters in a step by step predictable fashion. Others feel their way along more erratically so that their writing is revised almost as soon as it hits the page or screen. Whatever your approach, your draft work will require further revisions, as you read what you have written in the light of your original aims. This revision stage is essential. As you write your views become clarified so that you will be able to evaluate what you have written through a new understanding of the subject matter. In this sense writing is never finished but at some stage you will reach a point where you can no longer see how and where your writing can be usefully re drafted. The final step in revising is then that of publication.
In writing you are trying to do many things at once. You are trying to attend to the form of writing (including hundreds of rules and convention concerning grammar, vocabulary and style) as well as the content. In addition, you are trying to think through the details of a specific incident or argument without losing track of the general gist of your dissertation. And you are trying to clarify meaning for yourself while think about the needs of an audience, and here your supervisor may be very much in view, whose understandings and background you are trying to second guess. Faced with these difficulties no wonder many of us develop sophisticated avoidance strategies to stop getting started! Much advice has been offered to people who find writing difficult all we can do is to repeat some of it here:
- Try to recognise that writing can be challenging and that you do not have to, in fact you will not, get it right the first, second or the third times. Writing involves constant revision so treat first drafts as thoughts on a page.
- Get feedback very early on what you write. This is essential in order to revise your work and it can also be an encouragement if you know you have an audience for your writing. You should involve your supervisor at a very early stage in offering feedback. Your supervisor will want to see early drafts - this will save you both a lot of time in the long run.
- Write as you go along. For example keep notes on books or articles, write up your descriptions of classroom work, and make first drafts of early chapters. You are placing an enormous burden on yourself if you leave it all to a "writing up" stage.
- Try not to get stuck on the introduction. This is the hardest piece to write and will constantly be revised as you get a better idea of where you are going.